Documentation Teams and Support Centres: Collaboration for A Common Goal

November 7, 2013 at customer support, technical communication

Note: I wrote this post for STC Notebook but ever since they rebranded, the whole layout of my post is lost and it is not a good reading experience. See it yourself, and now I post it here (with the same publishing date though) for a better reading reference.

Not many technical documentation teams in the past used to collaborate with support centre teams in the organization. However, of late these two teams have good reasons to work together towards the common goal—to address users’ concerns and questions and provide them an optimal user experience.

My first job was at a support centre and that experience actually helped me understand the finer points of documentation responsibilities and challenges. A few area of common ground are:

  • Customers have pain points—Support centre and technical writers, both work to address these
  • Persistence and consistency—Every single call is equally important because for a customer this one call makes all the difference. The same holds true for documentation teams.
  • Quality control and performance benchmarks—Service level for calls and review for documentation
  • Branding—Support centre and technical writers, both represent the brand and not the individual self
  • Up-sell—When it makes sense

These similarities also mean that these two teams can find it easier to collaborate and work together for the common goal. Here are a few reasons how this collaboration can help an organization.

Customer Support Interact Directly With Customers

Since the support centre has direct communication with the users, they get a real feel of the areas where users have maximum questions, doubts, or concerns. They get to talk to product users for their comments on product features, UX and usability, or why they are struggling to use the product effectively. This information, when shared with documentation as custom reports, can help writers update the documents more accurately.

The support centre can share details of what new features customers want or expect, and whether a new release update did not reach users on a particular medium such as via email or on the product’s active Facebook page. The writers can plan plugs for such gaps and content marketing strategists can work on the editorial calendar accordingly.

Support Centre Know Hot Spots

If the support centre reports suggest that a majority of concerns and user questions ask “How I can set notification parameters before I approve an invoice,” it means that either this feature or its documentation (or both) need urgent attention. Writers can update the documentation to address the large stream of user queries, and the strategy team can update users about the fixes being planned to address those issues.

Support Centre Can Help Find Gaps

The support centre can also help the documentation team know if there are some gaps or inaccuracies in the documents. Also, if a large section of users report, “The documentation does not really help me understand how to restore the default layout of dashboard,” it may mean that either a diagram or picture or even a video tour could be planned to help users.

Assume that a significant share of existing customers refers only to the procedures and they are already familiar with the product and the context of different features, tasks, and actions. If these support centre reports (when mapped with documents’ analytics and metrics reports) show that most of the contextual information is not referenced over a period of time, the writers can plan out for quick guides as another deliverable. Likewise, more deliverables such as cheat sheets or FAQs may be planned depending on users’ preference and pattern of how they access documentation.

Support Centre as Subject Matter Experts

Since support centre always stays updated with the latest product updates, they can be excellent SMEs that technical writers can contact for their questions.

Collaboration Reduces Cost

The above examples may reflect that the support centre is often trying to help documentation teams. Well, if the documentation is being updated based on support centre feedback and in right direction, it will also means reduced calls on helpdesk. So, the SCEs are helping themselves too.

Support Centre Should Refer to the Documentation

Case 1: Not all organizations train their support centre on how to refer to the documentation. What if a user reports, “I am trying to find how to set up DNS settings for my new agent website and I am at Home > Setup New Website > Setup DNS > Advanced Settings. Can you please help?” What if the support center struggles first to locate this information in the documentation and then to answer user’s question? What if the support center’s response does not match with what the documentation explains?

Case 2: I am not sure of how organizations plan the support centre collaboration for user generated content (community or open forums) in the documentation. For example, I see a Skype community here and I am yet to work on a strategy where we can plan this community-driven content management with support centre. I tried to search for a case study or some best practices for how it works but did not succeed. I would appreciate if you (the readers of this post) can give me some references.

The organization should have the right kind of processes to ensure that the documentation teams and support teams collaborate. The horse as well as the cart needs to be in synch for a smooth ride toward the common goal.